Updated on 09/16/2011 7:15AM

McPeek not up to saddling Harlan's Holiday


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Ken McPeek, who trains Harlan's Holiday, has bravely soldiered on in the stable area this past week despite a broken left foot, but not without a struggle. McPeek has to hop up stairs on the clockers' stand to watch his horses work, and ducking in and out of stalls is a chore.

More significantly, though, McPeek said saddling a horse is a difficult task, and he will deputize one of his assistants to put the saddle on Harlan's Holiday, the probable favorite, in the Kentucky Derby. Most likely to get the honor is Helen Pitts, who doubles as the exercise rider for Harlan's Holiday. "I don't think I'm even going to try," McPeek said.

McPeek's situation is similar to that of Elliott Walden, who broke his ankle prior to the 1998 Belmont Stakes, which Walden won with Victory Gallop.

Lukewarm favoritism for Harlan's Holiday

Mike Battaglia, the linemaker at Churchill Downs, has said that he will make Harlan's Holiday a lukewarm favorite at 5-1. McPeek, who is good friends with Battaglia, thinks the price is way off.

"I think he'll go off about 3-1," McPeek said. "He's kind of a working man's horse. I think you'd be hard-pressed to knock him out of the first three finishers, and after that, you've just got to get lucky."

Mott recalls first Churchill win

As Churchill opened its spring meet Saturday, Bill Mott was the track's all-time leading trainer with 499 victories.

Saturday morning, after training Kentucky Derby hopeful Blue Burner, he recalled his first victory, recorded on Nov. 19, 1973, with a claimer named Colorado Bay.

Mott, who was 20 at the time, had watched Colorado Bay run that summer at Detroit Race Course and felt his connections were not allowing the horse to show his true ability. One day, at Keeneland, the horse showed up erroneously in the past performances as Colorado Boy. Since there was no public address system at Keeneland at the time, an announcement could not be made. The horse won for a $6,250 claiming price.

"Then he showed up here and they ran him for $8,000 and he won by a neck,' said Mott, whose primary job at the time was as an assistant to trainer Jack Van Berg. "I claimed him for $8,000 and ran him for $16,000 and he won by five or six.

"What a high that was,' said Mott, who went out on his own a few years later. "It was like winning the Kentucky Derby. I put up my own money to claim him.'

Though Mott is also Churchill's all-time leading stakes winner, he has never won the Kentucky Derby. Mott has only appeared in two prior Derbies, with Taylor's Special in 1984 and the uncoupled entry of Favorite Trick and Rock and Roll in 1998.

Mott believes Blue Burner's second-place finish to Harlan's Holiday in the Florida Derby was enough to warrant going on to the Derby, in spite of his poor fifth in the Wood Memorial.

Mott pointed out that Buddha, Medaglia d'Oro, and Sunday Break ran one-two-three all the way around the track in the Wood. "I bet they went go one-two-three around the track in the Derby,' Mott said, adding that a swift pace would help Blue Burner.

Pletcher losing long-time assistant

Cindy Hutter received more air time on TVG's "The Works" show in the two weeks leading up to the 2000 Kentucky Derby as the regular exercise rider for all four of trainer Todd Pletcher's entrants than the on-air hosts.

Hutter has appeared a lot less frequently on "The Works" this year with Wild Horses the lone Pletcher representative in the 2002 Derby. And once the Derby is over Hutter will put her helmet in mothballs, returning to her new home in Weston, Fla., where she plans to raise her first child, who is due in mid-September.

"This is my last fling for a while," said Hutter who also serves as one of Pletcher's assistants. "Horses have been my life but things are going to change now. I had thought about staying in Florida after Todd shipped north this spring but I wanted to stay on just a little longer to make it through one more Derby. Most of the six horses we have stabled at Churchill now are my kids, I've had them all since they were 2-year-olds, including Wild Horses."

Hutter has had her hands full with Wild Horses, the Arkansas Derby runner-up, since their arrival in Kentucky.

"He can be a little rambunctious," Hutter said. "All it shows to me is that he's sharp, on edge, and feeling good about himself."

Hutter has been with Pletcher since he first took out his trainer's license in December 1995. The two had also worked together for several years prior to that when Pletcher served as an assistant to D. Wayne Lukas.

"Cindy's been with me since day one and she's a huge part of the reason we've been so successful," said Pletcher. "She's had all my Derby runners over the last three years since they were young horses and is not only an excellent hand on a horse but just as good on the ground handling everything around the barn. I'm really going to miss her. I can find someone else to do her job but I can never replace her."

Odds stacked against Ocean Sound

Recent history is against the longshot Ocean Sound in Saturday's Kentucky Derby.

Not since Alysheba in 1987 has a horse with one career win scored a victory in the Kentucky Derby. In 14 subsequent runnings, the winners have had between two and five victories.

Ocean Sound has just one victory in 12 career starts, a maiden race over six furlongs on turf in Scotland last year. In four U.S. starts this year, he has not been worse than fourth, including a nose loss at 17-1 in a turf sprint at Santa Anita on Feb. 3. Trained by Jim Cassidy, Ocean Sound was subsequently disqualified and placed fourth for interference in that race.

In three starts in stakes since that race, Ocean Sound was fourth in the San Rafael Stakes at Santa Anita behind Came Home, second to Windward Passage in the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park and third to Harlan's Holiday in the Blue Grass Stakes. The winners of those races are all bound for the Derby.

In the Blue Grass, Ocean Sound raced from off the pace, tactics that exercise rider Adam Kitchingman said would be used in the Derby.

"He's more relaxed now than he was at Keeneland," Kitchingman said. "That's the only way we'll pick up a check in the Derby is to avoid the speed duel."

- additional reporting by Steve Andersen, David Grening and Mike Welsch